Monday, May 13, 2013

Chartres Cathedral--Part II

It's time now to go inside Chartres Cathedral. A few facts first: The Cathedral is 430 feet long, and 105 feet wide. The nave is 54 feet wide-the widest in France. The nave ceiling height is 121 feet. It is built in three stories: the bottom is the arcade, the middle is the triforium, and the top the clerestory. Below is a photo showing this, from Wikimedia commons.The triforium is the smallest of the three; the addition of the clerestory adds light and beauty to the cathedral as well as creating a need for flying buttresses. Chartres is the first of the great churches to do the three stories.

Below is a floor plan of Chartes, from Wikimedia Commons. I have added the text to the plan.There is a single aisle on each side of the nave and a double ambulatory aisle around the choir and apse.
The aisle and ambulatory allow for someone to enter the church while the main church is being used and go unobtrusively to a chapel off the apse and worship without disturbing the main body.

Above is a labyrinth from the early 1200s. It occupies about the west 1/3 of the nave. The photo is taken looking east towards the apse. The chairs are removed on Fridays to allow people to see and walk the labyrinth. It is one of the few medieval labyrinths left, and supposedly the only in France. There is only one correct path, and it is over 900 feet long. In medieval times monks would walk along the path as if they were walking the path to God, contemplating as they went. There are some modern people who walk it; whether or not they have the same reason to do so I do not know. In medieval times there were no pews or chairs; one stood throughout the service as a mark of respect for God and Christ.

The two photos above are of the nave, taken at the crossing looking west. Napoleon is reported to have said that no man could stand in the nave of Chartres Cathedral and deny there is a God. He probably tried. I found the experience almost overwhelming.

Above is the west rose window and the three lancet windows. The stained glass in the rose window is from about 1215; the lancet windows were put in about 1140 and survived the great fire of 1194. The rose window portrays the last judgment with Christ in the center. The three 12 century lancets are show closeup below. The one on the left depicts the Passion, the center the infancy of Christ and the one on the right the tree of Jesse.

Above is a photo of the choir and apse from the crossing. The young man on the lower right gives
some perspective. There is a baroque altar piece visible, which apparently is quite common in these medieval churches. Below are the clerestory windows at the east end of the apse.

This lancet window is the only other window to survive the fire of 1194. It is the Blue Virgin or Belle Vemere found on the south side just to the choir side of the crossing. This window is actually a composite. The upper half depicting Christ on the Virgin's lap dates from 1180. The bottom part dates from about 1225 and shows scenes from Christ's infancy.

Above is the south rose window with its accompanying five lancet windows. This rose is dedicated to Christ who is shown in the center with his hand raised in benediction. These windows were made between 1225 and 1230. A closeup of the five lancet windows is shown below. The center lancet shows Mary carrying the infant Christ. The other four show the four Evangelists standing on four old testament prophets. Left to right--Luke on Jeremiah, Matthew on Isaiah, Mary and Christ, John on Ezekiel and Mark on Daniel.

Above is the end of the south aisle and the beginning of the ambulatory. Notice the striking difference in color. There is a big cleaning going on now; the lighter area has been cleaned. It is anticipated that the whole church will be cleaned by sometime in 2014.

This is the south ambulatory. I think you can see a little bit of one of the apsoidal chapels.

The photo above shows more of a south ambulatory side chapel.

The photo above is taken from the south ambulatory. The rood or choir screen is the massive dark structure on the lower left-center. It was begun in the early 1500s but not finished until the 18th century. You can also see the beautiful vaulting and some of the apse.

The photo above is in the south ambulatory with the rood screen on the left. As you can tell, this area has been cleaned. Below is a photo looking from the south ambulatory to the crossing and beyond to the west end. You can see where the cleaning stops.

Chartres has the greatest medieval stained glass in the world. It depends on who's counting, but there are about 172 stained glass windows in Chartres, 152 of which date from the 12th or 13th century. And you see them in situ, where they were made to be seen.

The blue in the Chartres stained glass is magnificent, and has come to be known as "Chartres Blue." Many people believe that the process by which they made the blue was lost. We know that the blue is primarily due to cobalt, but we don't really know the process to duplicate the 13th century manufacture. What "recipes" exist are difficult for 21st century men to interpret and follow. Whether it was lost or not is really moot: for whatever reason little if any stained glass of Chartres Blue color was made after the 13th century. Another interesting tidbit : The stained glass at Chartres is about an inch thick.

Through all the wars since the 13th century Chartres has suffered very little damage. At the start of WWII, in 1939 all the stained glass was removed and stored somewhere in the French countryside. During the war, after D-Day at Normandy the Americans were driving towards Paris. The brass got the idea that the Germans were using the cathedral as an observation post and therefore it should be bombed. An American colonel, Col Welborn Barton Griffith, Jr. challenged the order. He took one man and went behind the German lines and proved that the Germans were not using the Cathedral. The order to bomb it was rescinded. On August 14, 1944 at Leves, near Chartres, Col. Griffith was killed.

The relic associated with Chartres is a piece of cloth that is thought to be the tunic that Mary wore when she gave birth to Christ. The Cathedral has had it in their possession since about 900; it was given to them by Charles the Bald. When the 1194 fire hit, two  priests grabbed the tunic and went down into the crypt or treasury. When people were poking around in the rubble two or three days later, they found the priests and the tunic all safe and intact. The Blue Virgin window was also intact. This was clearly a miracle, so they rushed into the building of the new church, dedicated to Mary--Notre Dame de Chartres. Incidentally, in recent years the tunic has been tested and found to be from the first century, as is the weave.

A word on the photos. The day I was at Chartres it was cloudy with off and on light rain.  I used a Sony a900, full frame DSLR. I took a tripod but had trouble with it trying to go vertical inside the cathedral. Operator error, I'm sure. Because of the sensor in that camera I was able to shoot some photos hand held at high ISO 2500-3200, which turned out okay. At least I was able to turn a disaster into acceptable.

I have wanted to visit Chartres for more years than I care to remember. I was not disappointed in any way. The last photo I will share with you is the north rose window, probably the one most "oohed and ahhed" over. This window was donated about 1235 by Blanch of Castile, grand daughter of Henry II of England and Eleanor of Aquitaine. She was queen of France by marriage and ruled France twice as Regent. The rose is dedicated to the Virgin. In the center Mary is holding the child Jesus. There are also the Fleur de Lis of France and the red and gold castles representing Castile. The Center lancet shows Mary's mother, St. Anne, holding Mary as an infant. The other four lancets show Old Testament figures triumphing over enemies. Enjoy!

 By the way, if you're looking for a good read, try Eleanor of Aquitaine and the Four Kings, by Amy ruth Kelly It's all about Eleanor of Aquitaine.


  1. Oh those stained glass windows! Beautiful photos.

  2. Hi - would you mind if I used the photo of the West Trasept Rose Window for an architectural assignment? Kind regards, Emma.

  3. Michael, this is some splendid work photographing the restored cathedral. We are going back this spring for the third year to document the progress.

    1. Thank you for your kind comments. I would like to get back in the next year or so; we'll see. I enjoy your work a lot.

  4. Hi Michael,
    These photos are just so beautiful. I am now living part-time in Chartres and working on a website to bring small groups there. Would it be possible to use one of your photos on my website?

    1. That would be fine. How is the cathedral cleaning going?

    2. Hi Michael, I sent you a reply weeks ago but on returning to your site, I see for some reason it has not been posted. First of all thanks for allowing me to use your stunning photo. In the last mail I sent I had asked if you had read "The Cleaner of Chartres" by Salley Vickers. If not, I would love to send it to you as a small thank you. Regarding the cleaning of the Cathedral it seems to have come to a bit of a standstill...I heard they had run out of money but this may or may not be true..or maybe they just tend to do most of the work in the wintertime when there are very few people in the Cathedral.
      Anyway, thanks again and the best of luck with your work, you really have a gift. Sara Jane

    3. Micheal just wondering could we use one more of your photos on the website. We are putting a link and acknowledgement in for the first one, we would love to also use the one of the labyrinth. Thanks,
      Sara Jane

    4. You certainly may use the photo(s). Don't know what happened to your first reply but I never saw it. I have not read "The Cleaner of Chartres." My email address is Hope your project is going well--please keep me posted.Mike